Quantified Morality – Seeking Well-Being for All
On December 10 1948, after the devastating effects of the Second World War, the United Nations drafted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (hereafter UDHR) charter. The purpose of the document was to identify and declare the universal rights that ever human being on the planet shares, and to promote these as unalienable rights for all of humanity, and to ensure that something like WWII never happened again. Much like the United States Declaration of Independence, the document creates a road-map for the rights and dignities that should be extended to all people regardless of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” This is a good beginning from which we can begin to work towards a quantified morality.
What the UDHR shows, in its 30 (short) articles, is that, while we are incredibly varied as cultures and societies, at the root we all hold the same innate needs. Article 1 of the charter states:
While all the points of the charter are reasonable and well thought out, already we see that, this document is not really a set of rules, but rather an attempt to say how we “should” act toward one another. Given that it’s a situation of choice, it’s not as powerful as it could be. And this identifies a simple but universal problem; While we can tell people what the ultimate world should look like, we are at a loss to enforce this, because the very act of enforcement of these rules infringes directly upon them.
Of particular interest is Article 25(1) which reads:
This is certainly a standard that we should all hope to attain, and one worth pursuing.
When reading the UDHR, many of the points that are seen as universal are infringed upon routinely by governments and societies worldwide. The second part of Article 25 is of interest, particularly with relation to theocratic dogma served up in the USA and increasingly in Australia:
This is just one example of how the UDHR is ineffective against tyranny, especially tyranny from inside sources. These societies are among some of the most progressive in the world, yet are under attack from conservatives who stand to gain the abolition of these rights. What it shows is that people are willing to forgo rights of others if for some reason the rights infringe upon what they see as their own rights, and this is where things get tricky. As with freedom of speech, which is not specifically stated in the UDHR articles, but mentioned in passing in the preamble (“… a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people“), these freedoms and rights are only as good as a society will allow them to be. For example, freedom of speech means you can say and express any idea or opinion, but that you shouldn’t expect to be given a “free pass” if your views or opinions infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others. By the same token, if the right to freedom of speech is extended to all people, your speech is allowed and even expected to be taken to task by others exercising this same right. With rights come responsibility, and I fear that too many in the world are more than willing to ignore this fact.
I view the UDHR as a good starting point for mapping of a morality for humanity. It promotes equality and well-being, rights and freedoms, above individual greed and selfishness, and is an application of a “larger group” inclusive mentality. But given the nature of the document, a buy-in situation, there are no guarantees that anyone needs to or will adhere to the points in the articles. Even with Article 30, which reads:
there is no guarantee that any state, power or group will actually give this document any credence. Still, I feel this is the best we have come up with so far, and it should be read by all citizens of earth, both to see how we “should” treat each other, and how we “should” be treated.